Friday, August 28, 2009

Slightly Askew

To be an artist is to be a prophet.

This is what my fiction professor challenged the class to consider this past week, because prophets are not those who just look; they see. They have a heightened and unique sense of sight and uncompromising vision. In other words, artists are the ones who look at the world through a frame that is slightly, or drastically off-kilter from those of everyone else. If the frame of most people hangs perfectly level on the wall, the frame of an artist finds acute or obtuse angles to set itself by. If the frame of the majority is a square, the frame of an artist is an oval, or triangle, or better yet maybe a hexagon. Because lets face it, those of us who are artists are just a little bit weird. We break the rules, change the norm, prolong the air of childhood, and take the long way round just because. We hang upside down in trees, take notepads into crowded places to record strangers’ words, spend hours drafting manuscripts or scores while everyone else is sleeping, and all for what? To find a different perspective. We see something we are convinced no one else can see, and we are compelled to find a way to express it, even when we lose sleep and get stared at while we hang upside down. And the problem is that the things we try to express are ineffable. There are no words or paintings that can fully capture what we have to say. But this does not stop us. Because our frames are hanging crooked. In our vision, the rules bend. We haven’t yet learned what can’t be done. We find the faith of children to conquer the impossible.

So this semester I am praying for vision, for the just the right angle to slant my view of the world, of God, and of myself. I am asking for boxes to be broken and for stories to come and teach me. Because writing is not just a selfish endeavor but also a means to engage community. Writing is a form of hospitality, of creating space for things other than myself, for ideas that are bigger than who I am, for characters that do not already have a voice. To create is to learn, to force myself to understand, to find words for what cannot be explained. Art is crazy, but it’s beautiful. It makes my heart come alive. It must be similar to the feeling that overwhelms God when one of His children finally starts to understand, to see themselves in the light of how they were made, to settle into becoming heaven’s work of art.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Traveling Mercies

On Monday I found myself driving back towards Tennessee and my final year as a student at Lee University. During the first couple hours of my journey I drove east under the light of a crescent moon and a few stars that seemed to reserve their brilliance for the last lingering moments before dawn. Then the sunrise began to peek its way over the horizon. The contented sense of beauty and life it evoked from my heart made me want to get up at five every morning. I love the beginning moments of a sunrise, the gentle lightening of the sky while the world lingers between dark and light. On this particular morning, I crested a hill in my drive and dipped down into a valley laden with fog. It was lacing its way through the contours of the land and covering the hills with a sense of peace. I should have been mildly concerned. Fog and driving do not usually mix well. But I wasn’t. As I crossed over the Missouri River the fog gave the impression of steam lifting off the water. The sight was breathtaking. And I could see just enough ahead to keep traveling in confidence.

When it comes to life, foggy moments do not seem rational or ideal traveling conditions. We feel much more confident if we can see miles of flat Nebraska plains stretching before us as we drive, rather than proceeding somewhat blindly, seeing only enough to know that in the next five seconds there is nothing that will cause our vehicle to crash. But as I stared at the fog, it occurred to me that some of the most beautiful moments in life are laden with fog, or at least they can be beautiful if we learn to rest in the midst of them.

There are so many aspects of my life that seem unresolved: relationships that are just out of reach of where I want them to be, decisions about the future that remain unclear, words I want to write but don’t yet have ways to say. But destinations aren’t meant to be reached instantaneously. It takes a lot of time and patience to arrive at them. It took me eighteen hours of driving to reach Tennessee, longer than I planned. I saw the sun for only a few hours of that drive. I drove under a cloud the entire time I was in Missouri. Five hours of torrential rain assaulted my car and my vision. There were moments I couldn’t see at all and was forced to stop and rest. Several hours into the storm I grew frustrated and impatient. I had to remind myself that there was nothing I could do to get to Tennessee any faster. I had to drive every inch of the 1021-mile trip whether I was cruising at 70 mph or crawling through a rainstorm at 45. Worrying about what time I would get in that night wouldn’t change my circumstances. I would arrive when I arrived. I might as well sit back for the ride and rest.

Somewhere in Kentucky I came out of a calmer rain shower to see fragments of a rainbow along the horizon. As I was admiring the splash of color in the sky and meditating on the faithfulness of God, the highway turned to bring the entire arch of the rainbow into view and to carry me right beneath it. I felt covered in the arms of a Father who knows how to love his children. I felt confident that whatever this next season held, he would be there with me and we would find beauty within it.

Contentment in the places where we have not yet arrived is a gift from God to those who learn to rest and trust in who He is and what He is doing. God is an artist with time. When He crafts time to be right and brings the needed mediums to combine into their places together, beauty wells up and our hearts know that God is good. But until that time is right, no amount of striving will get me any closer to where I want or need to be. It is in those times of fog and torrential rain that I am tempted to question the goodness of God, to allow stress or pain to overwhelm my heart, to loose vision of what or Whom I am traveling towards. But if I can learn to press into the heart of the Artist, to allow Him to complete what He has started rather than get in the way, then He will bring rest and contentment to my heart.

I have an image of a Father trying to paint a masterpiece on a huge canvas while his little son keeps trampling through the Father’s paints and smearing his fingers on the canvas in an attempt to help accomplish the picture he thinks his Father should be painting. The Father is patient and only smiles time and again as he wipes away the numerous smudges from his little boy’s hands and dips into the paint to begin again. But the painting would find its completion so much quicker if the child would be content to sit curled up in his Father’s lap, resting and watching the picture unfold.

I want to be that child, content just to be in the presence of my Daddy as He paints in my life. I want to learn to rest instead of strive. I want to trust that eventually we will get there together.